Hindus who visit churches to take part in Christmas celebrations will be “beaten”, a leader of right-wing group Bajrang Dal declared – to raucous cries of “Jai Shri Ram” – at an event at Silchar in Assam’s Cachar district earlier this week.
In a video that has been widely circulated online, Mithu Nath, the General Secretary of district unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (the Bajrang Dal’s parent body), declared himself “outraged” by the alleged shut down of the Vivekananda Centre (part of the Ramakrishna Mission) in Christian-majority Meghalaya state capital Shillong, and said Hindus would “not be allowed” to attend Christmas Day programmes and festivities.
“The Hindus (who visit churches) will be beaten because I revile those Hindus who would go and have fun at a Christian function after they shut down our places of worship. No Hindu will go to church this Christmas. We will make sure of it,” Mithu Nath was quoted in the video.
“If we do so (assault Hindus) I know the headlines in newspapers the next day – “Gunda Dal” has vandalised Oriental school.. but that is not our priority. We will not allow Hindus in programmes during Christmas when they are locking gates of temples in Shillong,” he said.
Addressing a crowd of around 70 people dressed in saffron and shouting “Jai Shri Ram” repeatedly Nath also said: “We accept this”, referring to claims the media twists the right-wing outfit’s name.
Nath’s claim – that the Khasi Student Union had shut down a “temple” – has been denied by a top official of the Meghalaya government, who said it was the Cultural Centre (where students are taught advanced computer courses) whose gates had been closed – not locked – because of a district holiday. No temple of the Ramakrishna Mission had been shut, the official added.
Although the Christian population in the northeastern state’s Cachar district is relatively small, the holiday is traditionally also celebrated (with much grandeur and reverence) by the Oriental School at Ambikapatty near Silchar. People from various religions gather here every year.
The Bajrang Dal – the aggressive youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad – consider themselves “protectors of the Hindu way of living” and enjoyed considerable influence in Cachar district’s Barak Valley region for several years.
In his incendiary speech Mithu Nath also hit out against “love jihad” – the right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men enter into relationships with Hindu women to forcibly convert them – and declared that the Bajrang Dal would accept any criticism to “protect our mothers and daughters”.
“People call us “Gunda Dal” but, if these criticisms are the price to pay for protecting our mothers and daughters from being pulled to the wrong way, we are happy to pay,” he said.
Although “love jihad” is a term not recognised by the centre, several BJP-ruled states have stoked fear on this issue in recent weeks, with Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma among those to speak on the subject ahead of Assembly elections due next year.
At the end of his address, to cover his bases in case of violence, Nath also advised those in the audience to stay “within the ambit of the law”.
“Do what you need to protect our religion but within the ambit of the law. Don’t take law and order in to your hand (but) do what you need to protect our religion. We are the last hope,” he claimed.